Day five of our Christmas/Anniversary cruise, December 27, 2021. Today is the anniversary portion of our cruise, Robbie and my 15th wedding anniversary! We were sailing into St. Thomas U.S.V.I at sunrise. I went up to the upper promenade deck to watch the sunrise as we sailed into the islands. The islands were bathed in the warm golden hour glow as our ship glided past. The pilot boat slipped alongside and our St. Thomas pilot jumped onboard to guide our ship into the port.
The town of Charlotte Amalie was about two miles from the cruise port. We could have just walked into town from the port. We thought that it would be nice to get a birds eye view of the island. We booked a shore excursion that took us to Mountain Top, the highest point on St. Thomas. From Mountain Top there is a great view of the blue water of Magens Bay, the best beach on St Thomas. We met our tour group on the dock by the ship.
The gift shop at Mountain Top claims to be the home of the banana daiquiri. So naturally Robbie and I had to have an anniversary banana daiquiri! Of course the scenic overlook is through the gift shop.
We made a quick photo stop at Drake’s Seat, a scenic overlook where we got a nice view of the port and Charlotte Amalie on our way into town.
We arrived in Charlotte Amalie near Fort Christian, a fort built by Denmark and Norway in the 1600’s. We were on our own to explore the town. Our guide and safari bus driver would be back in 1 hour to take anyone who was ready back to the ship. Then again in another hour for a ride back to the ship, so we had two hours to explore. The historic town of Charlotte Amalie has cobblestone streets, lined by colorful colonial buildings with big wooden doors and iron hardware. It’s not hard to imagine the streets filled with pirates drinking grog and singing Yo-ho-ho! Unfortunately, a lot of these beautiful old buildings are filled with high end, high pressure jewelry stores. I think there were over a dozen jewelry stores in a three block area. That’s great if you are looking for jewelry but we did not need any jewelry today.
We needed to get off of the main street. There are several really pretty stone alleyways with shops and restaurants. In one of the alleyways we found Glady’s Cafe. We were getting hungry so we stopped in for a bite. It was Robbie and my anniversary! We were married 15 years ago in Jamaica. To calibrate I had the jerk chicken and a Red Stripe beer! It was great to be back in the Caribbean with my beautiful Angel on our anniversary! I love you honey!
We had a nice leisurely lunch and we missed our ride back to the ship. We needed to walk off all of the wonderful food that we had been eating on the cruise, so we took a nice long walk back to the ship. When you get back to the ship there is always cold wate and lemon-aid and my favorite the cold damp towel! We had a great day exploring Charlotte Amalie! The next day was a day at sea on our way to the Bahamas and then back to Florida.
Robbie and I had a nice, but hot, afternoon exploring Old San Juan. It was great walking through the colorful old buildings. And blue cobblestones, how great is that! Going up and down the hills in the heat was not so fun but Old San Juan was amazing! We went back to the ship to cool off and relax a bit. Our all aboard time wasn’t until 11:00pm. There was still plenty of time to continue exploring Old San Juan. I wore Robbie out with the hills and the heat and 1111 steps! Robbie was going to stay onboard the ship. I wanted to take advantage of the extended time in port to take some night photos of Old San Juan. I brought my travel tripod along just for tonight. I was so excited to get started that I walked off of the ship without my mask! I’m surprised that they didn’t say something when they scanned me off of the ship. Pretty much everyone in town had been wearing masks when we were in town earlier. I didn’t want to go back to the ship though, there was a Walgreens across the street from the ship. I went in to buy a mask, there were 10 or more people in line to checkout! I went down the street to a souvenir shop, I now own an Old San Juan mask.
I wanted to try and get a few photos at twilight so there would still be some color in the sky. That didn’t go quite as planned, twilight was short lived and the narrow streets hid the sky. I did get two images with twilight sky.
When I photograph a place like this, I like to wonder around and just follow my nose. I usually end up finding some interesting things. I found myself in Plaza de Armas, the original town square. The centerpiece is a fountain, the fountain was now the base for the town Christmas tree. City Hall is along one side of the plaza.
After Plaza de Armas, I ended up back at Umbrella Street. The Christmas lights were lit where the umbrellas usually hang. The Governors Mansion is at the end of the street. Earlier when we went by here the street was closed. It was open now for Navidad de Puerto Rico. There was music playing and they were projecting a light show onto the mansion. The street was narrow and there were a lot of people, so I didn’t venture down the street.
I continued walking and I saw a woman walking a dog down a narrow street. I was hoping to get a bit closer but she kept moving away from me. It was an interesting street so I kept going.
This brought me to the old city wall along the entrance to the harbor. I was just in time to see one of the other cruise ships leaving the port. I did a quick time check to make sure it wasn’t my ship! There is always a little fear of the ship leaving without you.
I knew where I was now, Robbie and I came down this hill earlier. Casa Blanca was at the top of the hill. I decided to walk up the hill. It ended up being a pretty interesting street.
I came to a wide walkway with steps, it was sort of like a courtyard/pathway. We came down these steps earlier as well. It looked pretty cool at night.
I continued walking and found some interesting places. I found the famous Puerto Rican flag door by Rosenda Alvarez that I had read about. It was originally the traditional red white and blue. In 2016 she repainted it black and white to reflect the gloomy political climate during that time. Although I had the flag door pinned on my map, I never looked at my map. I just stumbled on to it. I didn’t know anything about the Ricardo Alegria door. Ricardo was a cultural anthropologist and archeologist. He was responsible for the renovation and restoration of Old San Juan. I think they could have given him a better door, maybe a nice wall.
Then I found this beautiful cobblestone street with the Puerto Rican flag in lights! There was also a section of the blue cobblestones.
The flag in lights was like a beacon that I had to follow. I walked down the cobblestone street and found an amazing carousel. I didn’t know about any of these things. If I had been looking for some specific thing, rather than just wondering around, I probably would not halve found most of these things.
The carousel lead me to another Puerto Rican flag. I just stayed in this intersection for a while photographing the people walking around.
I ended up back at the cruise port and the Nieuw Amsterdam, it was still there, phewww! I wondered around the dock taking a few photos of the ship before boarding. I set up to take a photo of the ship with the ornamental pillars and a woman laid down and started doing some arm exercises. So I took her picture too.
I had lots of fun photographing Old San Juan at night. I was able to do two of my favorite things. Wonder around an old town with cobblestone streets and colorful buildings and night photography. Hopefully I was able to get a few good images to boot.
Next to Barrio La Perla is Cementerio Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis. An ornate cemetery from the mid 1800’s. Several prominent Puerto Ricans are buried here. The cemetery is outside of the city walls. We had to walk down a steep road to the bottom of the wall. Then through the wall to get to it. The cemetery was closed when we were there but I was able to get some photos through the fence. The other side of the cemetery is bordered by Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Built in the 16th century in honor of King Philip II of Spain to protect San Juan. Old San Juan is bookmarked by Castillo San Felipe del Morro on the west and Castillo de San Cristobal to the east.
Continuing our walk through the beautiful cobblestone streets of Old San Juan I was noticing several homes with decorative tile house numbers.
Casa Blanca, a whitewashed home, built for Juan Ponce de Leon, the first Governor of Puerto Rico. Unfortunately he died on his expedition to Florida, in search of the fountain of youth, before it was completed in 1521. The home is currently a museum. It was closed when we were there.
Next we came to La Fortaleza, the fortified Governors Mansion. The street leading to the mansion dubbed, Umbrella street, typically has colorful umbrellas suspended above it. Umbrella street was decorated with Christmas lights instead of umbrellas during our trip. It was closed off to prepare for, what I later found out was, Navidad en Puerto Rico, a Christmas light show projected onto the mansion.
A quick look at Capilla del la Salud a small chapel at the end of the street, before heading back to the ship. We were very hot, sweaty and exhausted from walking up the hills and down the hills and back again. Robbie was done for the day but we were in port until 11pm. I wanted to take the opportunity to photograph Old San Juan at night. I freshened up a bit and went back for more of Old San Juan.
We have had a pair of sandhill cranes roaming our neighborhood for several years. They always bring their new chicks by to show them off. Back in January they sent last years chick on his or her way to starting his or her own family. Mamma and papa crane have been coming by together without any chicks. Several weeks ago they started coming by individually. Mamma would come by in the morning and papa would come by in the evening. We assumed this meant that they had eggs in the nest. Then about 5 days ago they stopped coming all together. We assumed this meant the eggs had hatched. Finally they brought their two beautiful new babies by, proudly showing them off.
The San Juan port is right in Old San Juan. Pretty much anything in Old San Juan is within walking distance. We did not do a shore excursion here. We just walked through Old San Juan on our own.
My wife Robbie and I walked off of the ship into Old San Juan. It was a short walk to the Capitol Building of Puerto Rico.
The front of the Capitol Building faces the Atlantic Ocean. Across the street is a statue of San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) name sake for the city of San Juan. It looks like he is giving the world the finger but he is actually pointing into the air. We took the steps down to the beach. The beach is quite narrow but the blue water and the Coconut palm trees are beautiful!
We continued walking through Old San Juan. It was a very hot day for the day after Christmas! Old San Juan is by no means flat! We were walking up hills and down hills, did I mention that it was hot! At the top of a steep hill we came to Castillo de San Cristobal, an old Spanish fort. It took 150 years to build, construction started in 1634 and wasn’t completed until 1765. It’s the largest Spanish fort in the Americas.
The blue cobblestones of Old San Juan. When Spanish ships sailed to the New World they were filled with ballast for stabilization. The Spanish ships sailing to San Juan were filled with ballast bricks made from iron mill slag. Ships returning to Spain, replaced the bricks with pilfered gold as ballast. The discarded bricks were used to pave the streets of Old San Juan. With age, the slag in the bricks turned a cobalt blue.
Barrio La Perla, a colorful ramshackle neighborhood along the Atlantic coast of San Juan. During hurricane Maria in 2017, La Perla, as well as most of Puerto Rico, were heavily damaged by the storm. A music video filmed in La Perla called “Dispacito” (slow), criticized the slow response by the United States government, it went viral. The video created a surge of visitors to the barrio.
Christmas/Anniversary Cruise 2021: Day 3, Part 2, Christmas Day! Mount Isabela de Torres, Dominican Republic
We had a great time on our walking tour of Puerto Plata. We returned to our minibus to climb the mountain! It was a long steep winding road to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres. We got a good look at the beautiful countryside along the way. The higher we climbed the better the views became. Towards the top, the road was very steep! Our minibus was having a hard time. Rambo told us that we would probably need to get out and push! Luckily the minibus made it to the top without our help. When we arrived at the top we were literally in the clouds. We were there to see the Christ statue on the peak. It was barley visible through the clouds. Puerto Plata below us was totally obscured. The Christ the Redeemer Statue is a smaller replica of the same statue in Rio de Janeiro. The clouds were moving rapidly and we were able to get nice views of the statue and Puerto Plata below. There is a cable car from Puerto Plata to the peak of Isabel de Torres. It was temporarily closed.
The Isabel de Torres National park has a beautiful botanical garden. After we took in the views of the valley below, we took a walk through the garden. The stone pathway wound its way through the beautiful lush garden. We came to a small cave. Rambo said he brought a group of 14 here and only 13 came out! He was kidding, I think….
There was a replica of an early Dominican home complete with its own herb garden. Rambo was very excited to tell us all about how the early Dominicans lived. He plucked herbs from the garden and invited everyone to smell how fresh they were. He was really having fun showing us how they used a device that looked like an old butter churn to grind coffee. He was very funny shaking his booty as he ground the coffee. He was telling us all about the house and how they lived. The roof was made from the base of palm fronds. It was a very interesting place. The path wound its way down the hill and was fairly steep! We were worried that we were going to need to go back up the hill! We were happy to see that Rambo had the driver bring the mini bus down the hill to meet us.
The first full day of our cruise, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2021. We spent the full day at sea enjoying the ship. We started the day with a nice breakfast in bed! Well not really in bed but we could’ve if we had wanted to. The night before we filled out our breakfast menu and hung it on our stateroom door. In the morning, right at the time we specified, our hot breakfast was delivered to our stateroom. It was very nice watching the world pass by through our veranda window as we ate our breakfast. It was very yummy too! We were far from camera ready so, sorry, no photos.
We wanted to work off that wonderful breakfast and also minimize the weight gain that always happens on a cruise. We took a brisk walk on the windy Promenade deck. We did 6 laps which equals two miles. We had to stop from time to time to watch the Brown Boobies chasing the Flying Fish that were jumping out of the water as the ship cut through the waves. As we were walking, I was seeing lots of photographs. So I took an extra lap to take some photos.
We were on our way to the Dominican Republic. This is the port that was switched at the last minute right before we left. The cruise port at Amber Cove is a fair distance from the places that we wanted to visit, so we booked a shore excursion. A shore excursion can be expensive, but in a port like this, it’s probably the best option. They were giving a talk about the shore excursions in the main showroom. We went to the talk to help us decide which excursion to do. We booked the Mountain Views and city sights shore excursion for the Dominican Republic.
Time to eat again! The reason the we always gain weight on a cruise is all of the wonderful food available pretty much anytime you want. We can’t let it go to waste! We popped up to the Lido deck and ordered a pizza for lunch.
There was another talk in the main showroom about the Caribbean. It turned out to be a sales pitch for rum. So we went back to our stateroom watched the flying fish and relaxed until it was time to get ready to eat again! This evening was gala night, so everyone dressed up for dinner. We had a very nice Christmas Eve dinner in the main dining room. After dinner we went to see the dance show in the main showroom. The Step One Dance Company put on a nice show.
My wife Robbie and I enjoy taking a cruise for Christmas and our anniversary. Unfortunately the past couple of years the cruise industry has been shut down. We have been unable to take our Christmas cruise. So we were really ready to cruise. Things have been getting better, the covid cases have been dropping. Everyone on the ship needed to be fully vaccinated and have a negative covid test to board the ship. Masks were also required everywhere inside of the ship, except your cabin and while eating or drinking. So this year we thought that we would take our Christmas cruise. We booked a 7 day Caribbean cruise with Holland American Cruise Line. Enter the Omicron variant! Covid cases were rising, ugh! We had committed to going, so we made the decision to continue with the cruise.
Our cruise departed from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 23rd. We were going to Grand Turk, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay Bahamas. A few days before the cruise we were told that the Grand Turk port would be replaced with a stop at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Apparently both ports are owned by Carnival Cruise line, Holland America is a Carnival company. The Grand Turk port only had enough personnel to accommodate one ship. Carnival and Holland America were taking turns at the port. It was Carnivals turn, so we got bumped to Puerto Plata. We had been to Grand Turk before on another cruise, so we were good with the switch.
We drove our car to Fort Lauderdale to start our cruise. The great thing about living in Florida is that we are a few hours drive from any Florida cruise port! We parked at the Park N Go parking lot. We took a 5 minute shuttle ride to our ship the Nieuw Amsterdam. Our last cruise in 2019 from Venice, Italy took hours to board the ship. The European ship was delayed by fog but still, after boarding started it took hours! This time in Ft Lauderdale, we boarded the ship in record time! In fairness, the latest ship was about 500 people short of being full. All of the passengers had staggered boarding times, we were in the 1:40pm boarding group. We arrived at the parking lot about 1:30pm. The shuttle dropped us off right at the ship. The cruise line baggage guys grabbed our bags from the curb. We walked into the cruise terminal. We had to wait for one couple in front of us to show our boarding passes, passports, negative Covid tests and Vaccine cards. They scanned our boarding pass and we went right to security. We put our carry on bags through the machine. From there we stopped at a kiosk and had our photos taken for our ship/room key cards. After the photos we walked right onto the ship. I think they scanned our boarding passes one more time, as we boarded the ship. We were in our cabin literally 15 minuets after we got off the parking lot shuttle! Our key cards were waiting for us in our mail slot.
Once on the ship everyone is required to do a mandatory muster drill. This is a practice run for everyone to gather at their assigned lifeboat in case of emergency. Normally the whole entire ship gathers on the promenade deck under their lifeboats. You are all massed together until everyone is there and listen to the safety instructions. It’s a very tedious and long process. Not to mention huge crowds of people and Covid. They changed their process for this cruise. This time we just needed to go visit our lifeboat, so we knew where it was. A crew member scanned our key cards, so they knew we had been there. Then we just needed to watch a safety video in our cabin. A much better process, thank you Holland America! We took in the view of the port on our way to the lifeboat.
When we sail out of a port, I like to go up on deck and watch the sail away. Robbie stayed in the cabin and I went to take some photos of the sail away. I like to watch the people, watching the people, as we sail through the port. People on shore are waving and yelling at the people on the ship and people on the ship are waving and yelling at the people on shore. Everyone is happy, taking photos, and having fun!
click on an image to se larger.
As we were sailing out to sea, we were treated to a nice sunset over the fantail. One of the best things about cruising is watching the sunset from the deck.
After enjoying the beautiful sunset, I took walk around the Lido deck. There is the rear pool and hot tubs with a pool bar. There is also a pizza shop where you can get a made to order pizza. Moving inside we have the Lido Market buffet restaurant. This is where you can go just about anytime and grab a bite to eat, get something sweet, or something to drink, ice tea, water or coffee. Everything is usually pretty good! Moving through the Lido Market there is the second pool and hot tubs with the Lido pool bar. Get a tropical drink and sit by the pool or have a soak in the hot tub. There is also the Dive In restaurant, a walk up diner where you can get a hot dog, burger and fries. Robbie really liked the portabella mushroom sandwich! In case of inclement weather they roll the roof closed. We had great weather and the roof was open every day. They did close it at least one night. I think we passed through some spotty showers.
Back in our cabin, from our veranda, we got to enjoy the last of the setting sun as Fort Lauderdale faded into the distance. Our cruise was off to a great start!
What a beautiful Star-filled night for a predawn Space Coast Rocket Launch! United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V rocket carrying the Lucy Space Probe. Lucy will be exploring the Trojan Asteroid Belt in Jupiter’s orbit. After the launch the wind blew the rocket’s contrail into a cool smoke-ring in the sky.
Click on photo to see larger. You will miss all of the stars if you don’t.
After photographing the rocket launch, at Space View Park in Titusville Florida, I stuck around with a few other photographers and a few others that were just waiting for the sun to rise. It was a beautiful light show, a pod of dolphins went swimming buy as well. It was worth the wait!
Click on photo to see larger.
Robbie and I had a great morning on our Washington DC/Hamilton tour. We saw lots of things and walked lots of miles. We were exhausted, but we still had lots more to see. We went back to the hotel to freshen up and rest for a while. We planned to take the car and park either by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial. This would save us quite a bit of walking. First we drove to a Safeway to pick up a few supplies. From there we drove to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The parking area there was full, so we drove to the Jefferson Memorial. The parking area there is larger and had lots of spaces left. Since it was after hours, we didn’t need pay the kiosk for parking! The Jefferson and MLK memorials are basically on opposite sides of the Tidal Basin. We walked all of the way around the Tidal Basin, we started with the MLK Memorial.
Continuing around the Tidal Basin we came to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This is a memorial that you don’t hear too much about. I was thinking that it must be fairly new, it’s actually been there since 1997. The memorial is really quite impressive. It covers a 7.5 acre area consisting of four sections, representing each of FDR’s four terms as president. Each area has lots of stone work and water features. There are statues depicting the depression and other prominent points of his presidency. There is a statue of FDR with his faithful companion Fala by his side.
Continuing around the Tidal Basin we arrived at a stop on our Hamilton tour, the Thomas Jefferson memorial. The memorial was undergoing a partial renovation but we were able to enter to see the Jefferson statue. We were able to get a nice sunset view of the Washington Monument from the portico, also on the Hamilton tour.
We had enough time to visit two more locations. We got back in the car and moved to the MLK parking area, everyone there had left by this time. We were heading to the Lincoln Memorial, on the way we wanted to stop at the Korean War Veterans memorial. Robbie’s father is a Korean War Veteran. It’s a pretty impressive memorial with a life size bronze platoon in formation crossing rice paddies. The lighting at night make the soldiers look pretty spooky. We were disappointed to see that the memorial was undergoing a total restoration; we were not able to see it in all of its glory. We did visit the memorial a few years ago on our last visit to DC. We continued on to the Lincoln Memorial, probably everyone’s favorite memorial. I always remember visiting it when I was a kid. We climbed the steps to see the huge statue of Lincoln. We like to walk around the to the back to view the Potomac River. There is always the awesome view of the National Mall and the Washington Monument. It is even better at night.
My little Fujifilm X100V was working out great! It was very easy to carry around and I was traveling much lighter. I normally only carry one camera and one lens anyway, but it was much lighter. I got some really nice twilight images. For the twilight images, I was using my monopod. With my big Nikon, I would have needed to use my tripod. In DC, you can’t use tripods in the monuments.
We made our way back to the car and then to the hotel. We had a very long day! We ended up logging 30,000 steps, over 13 miles!
The next morning we had a long 12 hour drive back to Florida. We took turns driving, had a nice lunch stop, and several stops for gas. We made it home around midnight.
Robbie and I found a nice pizzeria and sat down for a nice long relaxing lunch. We were very hot, tired and thirsty. Feeling very refreshed from our lunch, we got back to sightseeing. We heard that there was a Freedom Ride rally on the National Mall. We headed to the National Mall to see what was going on. There were lots of people with red shirts, even a few horses. We hung out there for a while and listened to a few speakers.
We went from the rally to the Capitol Building. It was disappointing to see the Capitol Building surrounded by a security fence. It was nice seeing the Capitol Building, fence and all. The fence has recently been removed.
Our next stop was on the list of monument to Hamilton characters. The Library of Congress: James Madison Memorial Building. Madison was one of the first people to indicate a need for congress to have a library. He suggested a list of books that would be helpful to members of congress. Inside the main hall of the Madison Building there is a statue of James Madison. Unfortunately, due to covid, all of the federal buildings were closed to the public. There was a very nice capitol police officer at the door. He informed us that we were not allow to enter. Robbie asked him if he would take a photo of the Madison statue for us. He said yes! So he took Robbie’s phone inside and took a few photos of the statue for us. We were very grateful and thanked him for taking the photos for us. We didn’t tell him about our Hamilton tour but we did mention the other reason that we wanted to see the Madison statue. James Madison and I are “cousins” or something like that. My Grandmother was a Madison from Virginia, apparently her family goes back to James Madison’s uncle. So James Madison and I share a great grandfather.